The Return of the OSHA ETS: What Now and What’s Next?

Frederick G. Sandstrom

On December 17, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit revived the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s much-litigated “vaccinate or test” Emergency Temporary Standard (“ETS”). The Sixth Circuit’s divided decision lifted the nationwide stay on enforcement of the ETS that had previously been ordered by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit. The litigation will now move to the U.S. Supreme Court, which has already received eight separate petitions seeking to stay the Sixth Circuit’s decision. The Supreme Court has ordered the federal government to respond to the petitions by December 30.

OSHA has moved quickly to reinstate the ETS. On December 18, OSHA released new guidance on the timing for compliance with, and enforcement of, the ETS’s requirements. Broadly speaking, the guidance states that: (1) OSHA will not issue citations for noncompliance with the ETS prior to January 10, 2022; and (2) OSHA also will not issue citations for noncompliance with the ETS’s testing requirements prior to February 9, 2022, provided that an employer is “exercising reasonable, good faith efforts to come into compliance.”

OSHA has promised more detailed guidance. And there will likely be more twists and turns as the appeals from the Sixth Circuit’s decision proceed to the Supreme Court. For now, however, covered employers that paused their efforts to comply with the ETS in light of the stay, should take steps to resume their efforts to continue down the path to compliance. The December 18 guidance suggests strongly that OSHA expects covered employers to do the following by the initial January 10 compliance deadline: (1) adopt a written vaccination policy; (2) confirm each employee’s vaccination status, including proof of vaccination for vaccinated employees; (3) provide paid time off for unvaccinated or partially vaccinated employees to be vaccinated; and (4) require face coverings and other protective measures for unvaccinated employees working on-site. The ETS also contains informational requirements, including an obligation for covered employers to provide employees with a copy of the CDC’s publication on “Key Things to Know About COVID-19 Vaccines” (a copy of which can be obtained here).

We will continue to update you on further developments regarding the ETS as the appeals process continues before the Supreme Court.

“Key to NYC”: New York City Announces Vaccine Mandate Guidance

Anthony A. Mingione

New York City has issued the much-awaited guidance on its private-sector vaccine mandate. The mandate, which is scheduled to take effect on December 27, 2021, will apply to roughly 184,000 businesses in the City. There are several key takeaways from the guidance and accompanying FAQs.

Which Businesses Are Covered?

Any business that maintains or operates a workplace in New York City is covered. A “workplace” is any place where work is performed in the presence of another worker, or a member of the public.

What Must Employers Do to Comply?

Subject to the accommodation process described below, by December 27, 2021, employers must collect acceptable proof of at least one dose of COVID-19 vaccination from all individuals who perform services at New York City workplaces operated by the employer. This includes on-site independent contractors and nonresidents who work at New York City workplaces. (Workers who show proof of a first shot of a two-shot vaccine need to get their second dose within 45 days.)

The forms of acceptable proof have not changed. They include: a CDC COVID-19 vaccination record card or other official immunization record, New York City COVID Safe App showing a vaccination record, a New York State Excelsior Pass/Excelsior Pass Plus, or a CLEAR Health Pass. Accordingly, employers do not need to collect additional information from employees who have already provided proof of vaccination.

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Petition…GRANTED (!): An “Epic” PAGA Showdown Now Looms at High Court

Caroline Powell Donelan

On December 15, the U.S. Supreme Court changed course and announced that it would decide whether representative claims brought under California’s Private Attorneys General Act (known as “PAGA”) can be waived by an otherwise enforceable arbitration pact—taking on a years-long conflict between the California Supreme Court’s 2014 Iskanian v. CLS Transportation Los Angeles, LLC decision (holding that arbitration agreements cannot bar PAGA claims) and the U.S. Supreme Court’s own 2018 Epic Systems Corp. v. Lewis decision (holding that courts must enforce arbitration agreements under the Federal Arbitration Act (“FAA”), including those containing class/collective action waivers). You can read more about the Epic Systems holding in Epic Shift: Supreme Court Enforces Class Action Waivers in Arbitration Agreements and The Epic Systems Decision: Where Do Employers Go from Here?

Critics of Iskanian and its progeny essentially argued to the U.S. Supreme Court that it allowed an end run around the FAA, which preempts any state law that restricts the enforceability of arbitration agreements.

The petition was filed on behalf of Viking River Cruises, one of many filed by employers across the Golden State this year, each asking the U.S. Supreme Court to weigh in on the Iskanian versus Epic Systems PAGA conflict.

The Blank Rome team will be watching this one closely and with bated breath, as the Supreme Court’s ruling will impact thousands of businesses and have fundamental and profound effects on representative litigation both in California and across the United States.

Moving the Needle: New York City to Mandate COVID Vaccines at All Private Employers

Anthony A. Mingione

Outgoing New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio announced the country’s first vaccine mandate to apply to all private-sector workers. The mandate, which is scheduled to take effect on December 27, 2021, would apply to roughly 184,000 businesses in the City.

Acceptable proof of vaccination will include a CDC-issued vaccination card, the New York State Excelsior Pass, the Clear Health Pass, and the NYC COVID Safe App.

The City plans to issue enforcement guidance on December 15, 2021. The guidance is expected to include provisions for reasonable accommodations for religious and medical exemption requests. The announcement also includes a pledge of additional resources to support small businesses with implementation, though what will qualify as a “small business” or what those resources will be remains to be seen.

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OSHA Releases Workplace COVID-19 Vaccine and Testing Rule

Frederick G. Sandstrom

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (“OSHA”) released this morning the much-awaited text of its emergency temporary rule regarding mandatory workplace vaccination and testing for the COVID-19 virus. The rule is expected to be published in the Federal Register tomorrow, November 5, 2021, and will be effective upon publication. The emergency rule will be in effect for an initial period of six months but may be extended by formal rulemaking.

The following FAQ addresses key questions and issues relating to the OSHA rule and its requirements:

  1. Who is covered by the OSHA rule?

The OSHA rule applies to employers with 100 or more employees company-wide. The threshold is fluid and an employer will be covered by the rule if it has 100 or more employees at any time while the rule is in effect. An employer cannot, for example, look only to its headcount on the initial effective date of the rule. Once an employer is covered, it will remain covered for as long as the rule is in effect, even if its headcount falls below 100 employees.

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What Happens in the Workplace No Longer Stays in the Workplace: California SB-331’s New Restrictions against Confidentiality Provisions in Separation Agreements

Nicole N. Wentworth

On October 7, 2021, California Governor Newsom signed SB-331, also known as the “Silenced No More Act.” The Act substantially restricts the right of employers to include confidentiality provisions in separation agreements under existing California law beyond its #MeToo origins. Beginning on January 1, 2022, the new law will prohibit confidentiality provisions in separation agreements involving workplace harassment or discrimination on any protected basis, not just on sex. Any provision in violation of this prohibition will be against public policy and unenforceable.

Expanding #MeToo Protections

In 2018, California passed SB-820, or the STAND (Stand Together Against Non-Disclosure) Act, in response to the #MeToo movement. The law, now California Code of Civil Procedure section 1001, prohibits confidentiality provisions in separation agreements that prevent the disclosure of factual information regarding sexual assault, sexual harassment, workplace harassment, or discrimination based on sex.

Continue reading “What Happens in the Workplace No Longer Stays in the Workplace: California SB-331’s New Restrictions against Confidentiality Provisions in Separation Agreements”

NY HERO Act Update—It’s Really Time to Comply

William J. Anthony

On September 6, 2021, New York Governor Hochul designated COVID-19 a “highly contagious communicable disease.” With this designation, employers now have obligations under the New York Health and Essential Rights Act (“HERO Act”) that go well beyond simply adopting one of the model prevention plans. Since we should all expect the designation to continue, it is only a matter of time before the Department of Labor (“DOL”), collective bargaining representatives, and/or employees pursue claims against employers who fail to comply with the enhanced requirements in the Act. The good news, while compliance is tedious and will take some time, it is easily accomplished. We recently presented a webinar on the HERO Act which we wanted to share with you. The link to the webinar is below and is free if you use the code BRomeLLP. The one-hour webinar is a step-by-step guide to complying with the Act’s provisions. 

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President Biden Announces Sweeping New Requirements Aimed at Combatting the Surging COVID-19 Delta Variant

Oliver R. Katz, Brooke T. Iley, and Jason E. Reisman


With COVID-19 surging once again across the United States, yesterday, September 9, 2021, President Joe Biden announced a six-part plan for tackling the rising number of COVID-19 cases throughout the country. President Biden’s announcement includes a mandate that large employers require vaccines or weekly COVID-19 testing for their employees, as well as a mandate that all federal workers and contractors be vaccinated. Estimated to affect 100 million American workers, here are some important details employers should know:

      • All employers with 100 or more employees must ensure their workforce is fully vaccinated or require any workers who remain unvaccinated to produce a negative COVID-19 test at least on a weekly basis prior to coming to work.
      • Covered employers are required to provide paid time off to employees to get vaccinated or recover from any side effects of getting vaccinated.
      • All federal executive branch workers and employees of contractors that do business with the federal government are required to be vaccinated, with no ability to opt out and instead be subject to regular testing (Blank Rome’s government contractor FAQs about the executive order can be found on our Government Contracts Navigator blog).
      • Large entertainment venues like sports arenas, large concert halls, and other venues where large groups of people gather are asked to mandate that their patrons are vaccinated or show a negative COVID-19 test for entry.
      • Healthcare facilities receiving Medicare and Medicaid reimbursement, including but not limited to hospitals, dialysis facilities, ambulatory surgical settings, and home health agencies, must vaccinate their employees.
      • The vaccination requirement for nursing home facilities will now apply to nursing home staff as well as staff in hospitals and other Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services regulated settings, including clinical staff, individuals providing services under arrangements, volunteers, and staff who are involved in direct patient, resident, or client care.
Continue reading “President Biden Announces Sweeping New Requirements Aimed at Combatting the Surging COVID-19 Delta Variant”

As If Employers Didn’t Have Enough to Worry About, Don’t Skip the ARPA Cobra Subsidy Expiration Notice

Daniel L. Morgan 

As we explained in our April 16, 2021, post, the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 (“ARPA”) requires employers to subsidize the cost of Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act (“COBRA”) continuation coverage and state mini-COBRA coverage, if COBRA doesn’t apply, for qualified beneficiaries who become eligible for and elect COBRA (or a state’s mini-COBRA) benefits as a result of an employee’s loss of health plan coverage due to an involuntary termination of employment (other than for gross misconduct) or a reduction of hours. ARPA refers to people who satisfy these requirements as “Assistance Eligible Individuals.”

As explained in our earlier post, the COBRA and mini-COBRA premium subsidy is available only from April 1, 2021, through September 30, 2021.

One of the requirements of ARPA is that Assistance Eligible Employees must be notified 15 to 45 days before their premium subsidy ends that their subsidy is expiring. In the case of Assistance Eligible Individuals who are currently receiving the premium subsidy, this means that the expiration notice must be provided no later than September 15, 2021. Not meeting this deadline may result in the imposition of penalties. The Department of Labor’s model notice can be found at dol.gov/sites/dolgov/files/ebsa/laws-and-regulations/laws/cobra/premium-subsidy/notice-of-premium-assistance-expiration-premium.pdf.

Employers should contact their health plan insurers or COBRA administrators to confirm that they are sending the Notices out.

Please reach out if you have any questions or need assistance.

D.C. Moves Back Applicability Date of New Non-Compete Law

Daniel L. Morgan and Kevin M. Passerini

Earlier this year, Washington, D.C.’s mayor signed legislation, the “Ban on Non-Compete Agreements Amendment Act of 2020” (the “Act”), which imposes sweeping limitations on during-employment and post-employment non-compete agreements for employees in the District of Columbia. We previously reported on this legislation.           

Although the Act stated that it was to take effect following its publication in the District of Columbia Register, it also included the following provision: “This act shall apply upon the date of inclusion of its fiscal effect in an approved budget and financial plan.”

In other words, notwithstanding the Act’s definition of an earlier effective date, the Act was not slated to go into effect until the date it was included in D.C.’s 2022 budget—referred to as the “applicability date”—which most expected to occur by October 1, 2021. Shortly after passage, there were rumblings that Council members were considering amendments to the law—ranging from, among other things, a delay in the applicability date to exemptions for bona fide conflict of interest policies to income thresholds for the ban on non-competes, as opposed to an outright ban.

On August 10, 2021, the D.C. Council approved a budget—signed by D.C.’s mayor on August 23, 2021—that delays the applicability date of the Act until April 1, 2022. This postponement is significant because the Act’s limitations on non-competes is not retroactive, which provides employers with more time to continue to enter into non-compete agreements that satisfy the existing standards for determining the enforceability of non-compete restrictions rather than the far more limiting standards included in the Act.

Time will tell whether any substantive amendments materialize and modify the Act’s limitations prior to April 1, 2022.

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